CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Multiple Charleston County School District (CCSD) principals are sharing concerns following a wave of chaos and controversy surrounding the district and its board members.
In a letter sent Wednesday to the CCSD Board of Trustees, the principals of 16 CCSD high schools expressed “profound disappointment” over actions taken and members’ behavior during recent school board meetings.
That includes a Sept. 25 meeting during which the board’s majority faction, which is backed by conservative group Moms For Liberty, voted to place Superintendent Dr. Eric Gallien on paid administrative leave pending an investigation. Gallien assumed the role on July 1.
“The politics of party have no place in a system devoted to educating all students,” the group wrote. “Both in terms of substance and conduct the meeting did not meet basic standards of good governance that we expect from ourselves, our leaders, and our elected officials.”
The group took particular issue with the board’s votes to place Gallien on leave and deny the school district’s interim chief academic officer, Michelle Simmons, from officially assuming the role, calling the decisions “difficult to understand.”
“In terms of substance, it is difficult to understand your desire to diminish the role of experienced educators including the Superintendent and the Chief Academic Officer in decision-making – be it curriculum, instruction, personnel, or finances,” the principals wrote.
The letter further claimed that the board has failed to uphold its commitment to transparency in the handling of district issues. They noted that the decision not to hire Simmons was preceded by comments about her effectiveness, but members who voted against her appointment did not provide any explanation as to why.
“It is difficult to ascribe pure motives to your decisions without the transparency you promised,” the letter states.
The principals addressed the contentious nature of Monday’s meeting, saying they were “embarrassed by the lack of civility” with which it was conducted.
“If we are going to speak authentically about creating spaces for students to interact in a theater ideas, we simply must do a better job of modeling that behavior at the highest level of our organization,” they wrote.
Their concerns are echoed by community members, elected officials, and even some board members who were left frustrated and confused following the Sept. 25 meeting.
“It was really heartbreaking,” Trustee Courtney Waters, who voted against placing Gallien on leave, said after Monday’s meeting. “The audience was visibly upset.”
News 2 reached out to some of the board members who voted in favor of placing Gallien on leave, but they have not responded yet.
The school district did, however, send a statement saying, “CCSD’s practice is to not comment on the specifics of personnel decisions. The decision made by the board of trustees last night and information about their decision-making is shared at their discretion.”
The group of principals said they hope the letter serves as a reminder to board members that students are paying attention.
“Many of us are veteran educators who have witnessed suboptimal behavior from previous school boards, but Monday night’s meeting was uniquely troubling. We mobilized quickly to write this letter because we are moved by the idea that there comes a time when being silent is being complicit,” they wrote. “High school principals walk the halls of school buildings daily and explain to students in their formative years that we live in a community where adults genuinely care about children. We are just reminding you that they are watching us and they are watching you– both your actions and your conduct.”
The letter was signed by the principals of East Cooper Center for Advanced Studies, Cooper River Center for Advanced Studies, Wando High School, School of the Arts, West Ashley High School, North Charleston High School, Lucy Beckham High School, Turning Point Academy, Baptist Hill High School, St. John’s High School, Stall High School, West Ashley Center for Advanced Studies, Daniel Jenkins Academy, Academic Magnet High School, Military Magnet Academy, Early College High School, and Burke High School.